“Please send me a list of all the cities and hostels you’re gonna be staying in”
“Come on, mom, I’m a grown man, nothing bad will ever happen to me during my travels”
“Please, just do it, don’t make me get worried”
Sounds familiar? If you’re a young 20-something and you love to travel, chances are that at least one of your parents is always worried when you’re abroad and demands you to constantly check-in with them. Why do they do that? Because they are led by an assumption that the world is a very dangerous place (it’s not!) and also because it is their parental over-protective instinct to worry about their offsprings (that, I can understand).
And yes, I’m sure that I’m not the first nor last person that have lied to his parents about his travel plans. Sure, I could have gotten them extremely worried about my Middle-East journey in 2012 OR I could just assure them that I was relaxing at Monaco.
Guess which story I choose to tell them?
The most dangerous aspect of solo travel
However, after recent events that have happened during this last week, my opinion on this subject has changed dramatically. One of them was the disappearance of a New Yorker travel blogger in Mexico a few days ago. Harry Devert, 32, is (was?) a young American man who embarked on a one-year long road trip between New York and Ushuaia, Argentina. The main problem? He was completely unprepared for this journey and he actually bragged about that.
Sure, living for the moment and improvising along the road is fun and I actually encourage it, but jumping to a new country without doing basic research about what roads not to take and such? I’m sorry but that’s an extremely reckless and self-destructive behavior.
Of course, victim blaming is always a bad and despicable thing to do but actively searching for extremely dangerous activities and ignoring the advice of local and international authorities? I’m sorry but that’s just plain stupid.
Harry Devert probably believed that he was invincible, after all, a quick read at his biography shows that he has already taken part in many dangerous activities and survived to tell the tale. And that’s the most dangerous aspect about solo traveling: We get an overhyped (and false) image of what we can do and the dangers we can survive in. I know it because I used to be like that. And I was wrong, dead wrong.
Travelers’ main cause of death? A false sense of security.
The example of Harry is only one of many that have surfaced in the most recent months. If you were closely following the news you’ve probably heard about the American mother who died in Turkey while traveling solo under circumstances that involved an affair with a Turkish man whom she met online or about the woman who went missing in Texas after having traveled the world for two years. Back in 2004, one of the biggest headlines was about an American boy who went missing after trekking alone in the south of China. Do you notice a trend?
Just a few weeks ago I was robbed for the first time in my life in my own home country. I was confident enough to follow a shortcut suggested by Google Maps and ended up in a narrow and dark alleyway. An average Mexican could have just turned around and went for the long route. Not me. I was
brave stupid enough to believe that my travels have endured me for the worse and that the world is a very safe place filled with people who are scared about things they don’t know about.
I was a fool. If it wasn’t for the fact that the robbers were distracted and I managed to run away, there was a big chance that they could have taken more things from me. Including my life. Can you imagine the headline? I can. “
Handsome Stupid Mexican man gets killed because he walked into a dark alleyway”.
The culture of victim blaming
However, as I read the comments on the article about the disappearance of Harry Devert, my blood just boiled. Victim blaming has now mixed with country bashing and delivered some very hateful comments about why everyone who is planning on visiting Mexico is basically asking to be killed. It wouldn’t surprise me if those same mindless people also write comments about why ladies with cleavage are asking to be raped. The most “epic” comment of the bunch? “Never travel alone, this was a DUMB idea.”
I bet that all of you solo travelers have heard a version of that comment at least once in your lifetime. Concerned friends and family members who have urged not to travel to that dangerous place that they saw once mentioned but know nothing about it (one of my aunts was adamant about me not traveling to the evil capital of China: Korea. Yes, let that sink in).
And yet, I agree with the fact that traveling alone COULD be a dumb idea if you’re not prepared. Harry Devert was NOT prepared, he ignored the locals and entered Mexico’s most dangerous state on a motorcycle that he barely knew how to use. The same could have occurred to him in almost any country in the World and yet, the news focus on how dangerous Mexico is and how careless he was to travel there alone instead of focusing on the fact that he was simply not prepared for a journey like this.
Did you know that you can even get killed in “civilized” London if you’re careless enough to enter one of its bad suburbs? It’s not a matter of Mexico versus “safe and civilized” Nations, it’s a matter of well-prepared travelers versus those who clearly are not.
A final piece of advice? Don’t let cases like this stop you from traveling alone. Just do me a big favor and be prepared. Buy a phrasebook. Read a guide. Get informed about the latest news. And more importantly? Always give your family and/or friends back home your complete itinerary. Yes, I know that doing that might make you feel less than a grown-up but trust me, even I started to do it from now on. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 20-something or a 60-something, nobody is ever alone in this world. And that’s a good thing :)
Agree, disagree? What has been some of your most scary experiences while traveling alone? Join in the discussion and let me know what you think!